Lifelong Learning: What I’ve Learned – May 2017

Is it just me, or did April pass in a blur?  As I sat down to write this post, I was stumped for a minute trying to remember what I’ve done in the last month.  I gazed at my wall calendar, and it all came flying back to me.  Ah, yes…April did sneak up on me, punch me in the brain, and take off again.

First, I attended three professional development opportunities between the end of March and the beginning of May.  The first was on SACSCOC Substantive Change.  It was a day-long presentation on the policies and procedures for reporting substantive changes to SACSCOC.  There were a lot of slides and regulations, but we did finish a little after 2:00.  Mostly, the training consisted of – here’s how to do it, follow this procedure exactly, and ask questions if you are unsure about anything.  The last was on the Clery Act.  It was two days of training with even more slides and even more regulations.  However, it was a slide of the requirement, an in-depth analysis of the requirement, and then examples and scenarios about that requirement, punctuated by the dollar amount the institution can be fined for not following the requirement.  In the end, my takeaway was summed up with the following – if a student reports anything to me, I gather as much detail as possible and alert someone higher up who is in charge of the reporting, investigating, and/or follow up.  What I learned from both is that these are incredibly important topics (with dense and often ambiguous requirements) that have severe consequences for violators.  However, the presentation styles definitely left something to be desired.  I now know exactly what it feels like to sit through a whole day of a lecture and feel as though I’m supposed to have absorbed all of the information through osmosis.

The second presentation was more conference-style than training.  It was the John N. Gardner Institute Retention Symposium.  Colleges and universities from around the world (we had participants from the United Kingdom) shared their struggles and experiences with retention and the first year experience.  I learned that we all want to improve retention at our institutions, but one size does not fit all.  Even though we are all very similar, we are also all very different.  I left with a head full of ideas and possibilities and more books to add to my reading list.  I’ve started one – The Undergraduate Experience:  Focusing Institutions on What Matters Most – and am amazed by what some institutions have been able to do to help their students.

One of the final things that I learned in the last month is really just a reinforcement and clarification of something I already knew.  I also attended the KEY Center Graduation Luncheon last week.  Those students are amazing!  They have worked so hard to get where they are today and have overcome many obstacles that would have caused most people to give up a long time ago. But they didn’t, and they still haven’t.  They are continuing to fulfill their dreams, and I honestly believe they will, no matter what life throws at them.  We often hear that students today don’t have grit or resilience, but these students definitely do.  No wonder the common question we often hear is “How can we scale up the KEY Center so VC can have similar success?”  Pam, Magali, Joy, and Ana have accomplished great things with 160 students.  They require students to attend tutoring, and they talk to students  – not only about their classes and coursework, but also about their struggles and goals.  I believe that this support, motivation, encouragement, and caring is what has fostered the grit and persistence in their students which have allowed them to continually face their challenges and persevere.  The students of the KEY Center are my heroes; when I face my next struggle or challenge, I want to face it as courageously as they do.

Another semester seems to have come and gone already.  As Gretchen Rubin states, “The days are long, but the years are short.”  What have you learned this semester?  And, maybe more importantly, what do you think your students would say that they’ve learned?

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